Counting the Dead

No one is talking about the Dead.
We’re just counting them.
Each day there are more and we think
it can’t get any worse, until they don’t
come back. So we keep counting the Dead.

People made memorials for the Dead
of 2001. Their names are etched in stone.
You can read them on the Internet.
At some point they were read aloud.
But that was only 2,600 Dead. .

We mourned. We wept and flew the flag
and vowed revenge. We didn’t understand
that Death is never satisfied.
We should start reading names today.
Too many Dead to carve in stone this time.

But we don’t call the Dead by name
or say what was done with their bodies,
memories, or redeemed of the time
they should have had to wait as days
of quiet life and love pass by.

We who are dying now will learn
the patience of stucco and sunlight
on glass. Some of us refuse.
There is no one they love enough
to sit in a room with their dust and be still.

J. Kyle Kimberlin
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Kevin Webb

I’ve just learned through Facebook that my childhood friend and classmate Keven Webb has passed away. Kevin worked for the US State Department and all I know so far is that he died at his embassy post in Madagascar.

I wish I knew more about Kevin. I know he loved to travel, enjoyed music and comedy. He didn’t join in the chaotic political tribalism and hysterical celebration of random opinion that our culture is devolving to; he kept his head above the fray and stayed positive. He shared what he loved, not what he hated. Which I thought showed integrity, self-knowledge, and mature circumspection.

His life between school and middle age in social media is largely a mystery to me because we didn’t keep in touch. And I think that’s unfortunate. We didn’t go all through school together; Kevin went to high school somewhere else. Those who’ve known him as an adult have likely known him as quiet but friendly and compassionate. We don’t really change, you know? His friends in recent times have my sympathy, and in a sense, my envy.

We didn’t finish the race together but we started it just a few feet apart. Kevin is second row, far right. I’m second row, third from the left.

… lessons done, my friend.

Mrs Wilsons Class

Mrs. Lottie Wilson’s kindergarten class, Canalino School, 1966-1967.

Forever Dog

If I could choose
the last thing, I wonder.
The last thing I would ever see.
You understand me: I mean the last thing
I would see before I die. It should be
wonderful, like a bird. No, a bird
would never remember.
A dog.

A dog running.
A little dog running to me.
A dog laughing and running.
I wish for a dog running and watching
the small birds alighting in the grass.
A dog of my own forever, just
a dog forever and ever.
My dog.

 

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

Sitting in the drive-through of the bank today, I looked up between the buildings and saw a gull catch a gust of wind. I thought, What if that was the last thing I ever saw? It’s beautiful. What if people could plan ahead and choose their last vision. The poem began forming in the next minute or two, so that I had to pull over and start scribbling it in my handy pocket notebook. Jack London was right:

“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”

Now I wonder, friends, what would be your choice? What would be the image you’d like to carry with you into eternity? Feel free to leave a comment or create your own expression and share a link to it.

A Way With Words

“It’s good. I like it. You sure have a way with words.”
“Thanks.”
“What does it mean?”

That always makes me smile, and a couple of answers pop to mind: “How the hell would I know? I only wrote it.” Or perhaps, “Well what does it mean to you?” Not good. People want an answer; they want clarity and feel entitled to it. But maybe I’m not the right person to answer the question. Maybe they’re not the right person to ask it.

If a cook is exploring a new recipe and asks you to try the dish, you might say Thank You, and report that you enjoyed it or not. But you don’t lay your napkin neatly on the table and say, “Gee that was yummy. What was it supposed to taste like?”

You probably know what Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing, that writing can be a kind of telepathy, a psychic connection of Meaning between two minds, across time and space. Or something to that effect. I have cited that postulate before in this blog, but I’m skeptical.

Let’s imagine I sit down with my copy of The Complete Poems of Robert Frost, a cup of coffee, and with my vague memories of my college studies in English. And I turn to my favorite poem – which is everybody’s favorite poem:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


What does it mean? It’s one of those poems that often gets called “deceptively simple,” and it’s true. Most people who read it are very much deceived. Robert Frost died when I was 2, so we can never know. …Well that’s not true. We don’t need to ask the artist, we can explore the art for ourselves. Let’s take a couple of jabs at it.

  1. Winter is peaceful. Horses are cool. It’s nice to live in the country and use words like “village.” Back in the 1920s, queer meant strange, perplexing. And we have to keep moving and get our chores done before we can go to bed.
  1. The woods are a metaphor of the psyche, which stands apart from tangible life – the home in the village. The falling snow is the passage of time. As we grow older (the nights grow longer and darker), the dark woods of death – the event horizon of consciousness – seem more real, impending. We pause to consider mortality. The woods are lovely: we have a yearning for the peace of our inevitable passage into the woods. Then there are the harness bells; for whom do the bells toll?

If I’m being honest, it’s always been simply a poem about quietude and peace for me. It reminds me of Christmas, with the bells and the snow and the darkness evening being Winter Solstice. But if I were pressed for deeper meaning, I’d say it’s a rich and elaborate poem about death and the awareness of death; the darkness beyond the lights of the town for all of us.

Around the same time, e e cummings wrote a poem about a girl,

whose least amazing smile is the most great
common divisor of unequal souls.

Nah, that’s Death, e e. Death is the greatest common divisor of everything. It’s what we all have in common. Beyond that fact, I don’t think any two of us look at life and death and Meaning in exactly the same way. And the right answer to all of it may very well be 42.

So I’ve come to suspect that Meaning isn’t rightfully my job; not my department. Please hold while I transfer your call. Honesty is my job, and diligence, and the best craft I can bring to bear. But Meaning is a task for someone else. And here’s a thought that might seem twisted: maybe meaning doesn’t belong to that certain reader who’s asking me to explain. If they’re not finding the Meaning, then the piece has reached the wrong audience. The Meaning belongs to someone I haven’t met and never will. Maybe that’s what Stephen King was getting at.

So despairing of a psychic connection with readers yet unraised, untutored, I have little cause for hope, but that someone years hence finds a scrap of my writing, and it will mean something to her that I can’t even imagine.

“A book, once it is printed and published, becomes individual. It is by its publication as decisively severed from its author as in parturition a child is cut off from its parent. The book “means” thereafter, perforce, — both grammatically and actually, — whatever meaning this or that reader gets out of it.”

– James Branch Cabell

Poetry is Industrious

“It’s easier to understand the idea of death than the reality of life, and so we make an industry of waiting, imagining our end lumbering toward our vain and cubicled selves, inventing the selfish moral blank spots we suspect ourselves of being.”

Michael Thomsen on the vanity of the zombie apocalypse. (Paris Review)

Thomsen was writing about apocalyptic games, but that sure looks like I should be able to relate. Death is the greatest common denominator and poets – and artists in general – have never been able to take their eyes off it for long. 

A Darker Continuation

what-dreams-may-come-copy

They’re saying that Robin Williams was known for being funny – a comic – and I suppose that’s true. But I will remember him most for his role in the film What Dreams May Come, which was powerful, intense, beautiful, and not even remotely amusing. In fact, the irony of it makes me sad tonight.

It is the story of a man whose wife commits suicide, and when he reaches his Heaven he cannot find her there. She is in Hell because she took her life. Unable to accept this, he sets out to find her among the lost and bring her back. I won’t spoil the outcome for you.

I pray that someday humans will evolve to become beings with the power – born of willingness and compassion – to redeem the suffering among us, while life still holds that hope.

 
“…They think of suicide as a quick route to oblivion, an escape. Far from it. It merely alters a person from one form to another. Nothing can destroy the spirit. Suicide only precipitates a darker continuation of the same conditions from which escape was sought. A condition under circumstances so much more painful.”
– Robin Williams, as Richard Matheson in What Dreams May Come

Half Past Eternity

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust

I tell you I am aging relentlessly, thrown
open to the ocean air like a sash window
framed by peeling paint. That’s how it is.
But I have been held close, held up
into sunlight and moon wind, into branches
of old trees, held so tenderly and helped
to lean out over water rushing into death.

You and I are still alive. Don’t be afraid.

You know that life is hiding from us, though
we caught a glimpse this morning, where
it fell as a shaft of light across the floor.
It rose and flew like a moth down the long
hall and disappeared. As a child I saw
life fly in through the window while
morning arrived and my grandmother
was singing in another room. It fluttered
by and rested for a while on my hand. 

The house is gone but not that room, not yet.

papa_tomatoes_1989_crop1

This candle’s tiny flame is all we know of fire,
no less than a sun, and all of time
is moving in this single clock. I wind it
twice a week and see behind the glass the marks
where Papa’s fingers brushed its face.
We do not die, his garden goes on forever.
So we can see him planting tomatoes
in a day of late spring resurrected,
swaying in green and yellow light.
A breeze parts Grandma’s linens drying on the line.

That day will live as long as we need it to.

From a distance he appears soft and kind
and now he is visible only at the focal length
of years. Seated on the sofa in an umber light
he sets his watch. Half past eternity. He looks
up at us as if to speak, but so much silence falls
between.  Did he remember, as the evening
softened and grew dim, the cry of the dogs
through the tangled woods?

They always knew the dark road home.

 

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Last Words

Do you ever think of the art of leaving the world with a good one-liner? It is an art form, you know, though perhaps generally inadvertent. For instance, James Brown said, “I’m going away tonight.” Lewis Carroll said, “Take away those pillows, I shall need them no more.” Lou Costello said, “That was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted.” And Thoreau said, “Moose … Indian.”

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not expecting to need a good one any time soon. I was just thinking about it, and thought I’d have a bit of fun. so I’ve been making a list of little phrases that might serve on on the way out. Most are original, while some are based on the profundity of great thinkers from Oscar Wilde to Charlie Brown.

Let me know what you think. … Oh, and here’s a poem too.

  • I hid the gold behind the …
  • Well, I sure didn’t see this coming.
  • Aw, who cut the cheese?
  • Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.
  • And now for a word from our sponsor.
  • Excuse me a moment.
  • Somebody wind the clock.
  • I smell pancakes.
  • Time to piss on the fire and call the dogs.
  • Good grief.
  • Don’t tell me, let me guess. 
  • Is there any more pie?
  • Stand back, let me handle this.
  • Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.
  • Now was all that really necessary?
  • I make a motion to adjourn.
  • Has anybody seen my hat?
  • Well, that’s how they get ya.
  • Tomorrow will be beautiful.
  • Get the gate.
  • Did you say wheat?
  • Stop at the next gas station, I need to pee.
    And finally …
  • Don’t laugh, you’re next.

The Last Word

So this is what it’s like
to be alive.  It is all
so difficult; the air and light
resist me.  Even the music
makes me cry or laugh.
I expected we would have wings
and make love behind waterfalls.
I thought there would be
more owls
and elephants fearlessly singing.
I thought I could make you believe
in water running through rocks
between the trees.
You would bend down to drink
and find me living there
with the last word of the first poem
that would ever make you weep.
Then you would love me.  Then
you would return my calls.
But here we are, living
on our oily streets
and the malignant traffic running
between us, helicopters
pounding down the sky.
The elephants are wise
and careful and very shy.
So I am leaving messages
for you:  the last word
of every poem I write.

 

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The Last Word by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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A Terrible Thing

Bluffs_Tree_20140107-001 

The Angel

It is a terrible thing to run dry, to be a man
caught out in the open under the great arcs
of light and darkness. In such places,
nothing but thirst will remind you of human desire;
nothing but the thought of God will recall your name.
I don’t know it. I can’t say where you came from
or where you dreamed you might be tomorrow.
I know only this step and not another.
The next step and none after that. 
Turning back brings no more hope than pressing on.
There is no water here.
I don’t know why you came at all.

The Crow

I have a beautiful song for you, don’t you understand?
No. You hear only Caw and Caw Caw, but that’s because
you don’t have ears. No fault of mine!
I can sing, fly, hop on the ground in the sun,
and tear apart those who have died.
My kind keeps things cleared away, and the song we have
is lovely because it knows the secret moments of a day.
The song contains time, and you can’t even take that
in your hands. It skips away and flutters, then it soars.

The Tree

I have my ally: The wind comes to find me,
flying for a thousand miles. We are in love
but the wind cannot stay.
The rain when it comes feels wonderful to me.
There is so much to love in my world.
I believe I love the water most of all.
Everything wants to touch me, to hold and caress
and I feel strong. I reach up for God and He is there.

We die as we live, silently and in peace.
Even in death we do not fall, but wait for the wind
to circle round the world again and ease us down.
So I am not afraid of you. 

The Dog

My life is a dance of ten or fifteen years, and I love
to hear my voice ring out into the all-too-silent world.
You can say so much with your silence, like the wind,
but a dog is a turning leaf and a sound.

There is a long river of light when the day gets old
and I grow tired, thinking of my food and where I sleep.
I am not afraid because the pack is with me.
I do not rest alone.
But you will, Man, and it makes me sad.
I have seen our tracks in the dust up ahead,
where they go from many to few, to two then one.
Mine don’t go on very long, but I have no words to tell you this.

The Angel

I could bring you thunder and rain without warning,
to rise and rush high in the scarred earth
and sate the dying filigree of trees.
But you would never ask Heaven for that.

 

 

Kyle Kimberlin
2014.01.25

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A Terrible Thing by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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